New bells will ring in memory

Feelings of pride and poignancy will be shared tomorrow as two new bells are made for a mid-Norfolk parish church.The casting of the bells for the Church of the Assumption at Gressenhall, near Dereham, marks the culmination of a four-year, £20,000 fund-raising project to transform the landmark steeple into a ring of 10.

Feelings of pride and poignancy will be shared tomorrow as two new bells are made for a mid-Norfolk parish church.

The casting of the bells for the Church of the Assumption at Gressenhall, near Dereham, marks the culmination of a four-year, £20,000 fund-raising project to transform the landmark steeple into a ring of 10.

And the new additions to the tower will bear inscriptions to the memory of the driving force behind that project, Pauline Laing, as well as one of the county's great characters of recent times: businessman and farmer Brian Cross. Both lost their lives to cancer.

A small contingent plans to travel from Norfolk to watch the casting process at the world-famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the East End of London.


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Mrs Laing's husband Brian, of Whissonsett, near Fakenham, said this week there was no way he could miss watching the casting of the bell in her memory. "She'd be chuffed as a lord that they had achieved this," he added.

Mrs Laing had played an active role in village life at Whissonsett before she was diagnosed with her illness. But her great love was change-ringing, a hobby she practised prolifically in church towers across mid-Norfolk, and her death in 2005 meant she never had the chance to see her dream of Gressenhall as a 10-bell tower come true.

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Peter Adcock, tower captain at Gressenhall and president of the Norwich Diocesan Association of Ringers, said: "Pauline was very much the prime mover in the project, and when at one point it looked as though it might fade away she was the one who insisted we should press on with it."

The new treble bell will be inscribed in memory of Mr Cross, who died last year, aged 62, after battling with a rare form of brain cancer.

Mr Cross, who lived at Gressenhall, was renowned as a larger-than-life entrepreneur. The former mayor of Dereham was a potato and blackcurrant grower, built up a chain of 12 Big Fry fish and chip shops and in the 1960s started the Tavern Club in the town that brought the likes of Jimi Hendrix to Norfolk. He was also an enthusiastic huntsman.

The present ring of eight at Gressenhall last underwent major upheaval in the 1990s, when the tenor bell was recast and the others overhauled and rehung. The new bells, each weighing about 3cwt, will be hung in new steelwork over the top of the existing bell frame, and this is being provided by David Bunning, of the GT Bunning and Sons farm equipment manufacturers in the village. In times past the Bunning family were mainstays of the Gressenhall ringing band.

When the installation work is complete, probably around March, Gressenhall will join just a handful of towers across Norfolk with 10 bells or more.

Mr Adcock said: "I guess that it is more of a step forward for the 'performers' rather than their audiences, who might not actually notice much difference to what they hear, but it will provide new opportunities for more ringers to move into the realms of advanced 10-bell methods."

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